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Contempt in Court: County PD Threatens to Beat Up DA

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on October 26, 2010 9:56 AM

The courtroom is a battleground for attorneys. After all, our legal system is designed specifically to arrive at the truth through an adversarial process. But judges generally prefer if profanity, yelling and invitations to "step outside" are not part of the fight in court. In one Stockton, California, courtroom last week, however, things got just a bit out of hand.

The Stockton Record reports that San Joaquin County Public Defender Peter Fox, usually responsible for defending people from criminal charges, is himself the object of a criminal investigation for losing his cool in court and threatening the prosecutor. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately for those who like a spectacle, it didn't come to blows.

But the exchange became heated as Fox "peppered" San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Ronald Goodreau with expletives and generally got up in his face during court arguments.

The Record writes that according to Goodreau, Fox lost his cool because the prosecutor refused to agree to a delay for a drug charge hearing. Fox then called Goodreau a "a dirty word," threatened to beat him up and asked if he wanted to step outside. The altercation continued out in the hallway and then on into the judge's chambers. Any fighting in chambers would likely lead to a contempt citation, even for the County PD.

Normally, such behavior in open court would be met with a warning from the bench and possibly speedy action by the bailiff if things don't simmer down quickly. While there is no report of a citation from the judge, the chief deputy district attorney, Scott Fichtner, told the Record he will wait to see the police report before any criminal charges or disciplinary actions with bar association are pursued.

The Record reports Public Defender Peter Fox is well respected in the legal community and known as a 'scholarly' type. So, why did he lose his cool over what seemed to be a relatively unimportant hearing? Maybe it is the fact that county budget cuts recently forced the lay-off of nearly one third of Fox's staff of attorneys in the already overloaded PD's office.

A final note: Fox is a fighter in more ways than one. Despite the untoward outburst, the hearing that was the cause of the scuffle went well for Fox's client. He (or she) got off with a misdemeanor conviction.

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